February 15, 2010

Chinese support for sanctions? What about the Russians?

In light of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's February 11th announcement that his country is now a "nuclear nation" - which he has claimed before - there has been a renewed call for sanctions from the Obama Administration. The two actions are telling - Iran was supposed to have delivered "a punch" to the West on the 31st anniversary of the Iranian revolution, and it appears that the U.S. administration has finally woken up to the fact that Iran is developing a nuclear weapon.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has long talked about new United Nations sanctions against Iran, all to no avail. The sticking point has been securing the cooperation of United Nations Security Council permanent members - with veto power - Russia and China. The other three members, the United States, United Kingdom and France, have been on board for some time.

There have been claims from the Russians that they do support sanctions, especially as Iran continues to thumb its nose at the world over demands that it halt its uranium enrichment program. On the other hand, the Chinese have been consistent in their position that diplomacy needs to be given more time before the imposition of another - there have been three thus far - round of sanctions. There does not appear to be any change in the Chinese position.

A closer look at the claimed Russian support reveals some positive spin on the part of the administration, particularly Mrs. Clinton. Although Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov makes the right noises about sanctions, the Russians still have an active contract to complete the Bushehr nuclear reactor. Granted, that reactor falls under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards, but the fact that a nation - Russia - still willing to provide assistance to a country that is under sanction for a uranium enrichment program - Iran - should be troubling.

It goes further. While the world is concerned about Iran's nuclear program, Russia has no intentions to stop selling advanced air defense systems to the Islamic Republic. The Russians believe that the sale of the S-300 missile system is not prohibited by the current sanctions protocols. Russian Security Council Deputy Secretary Vladimir Nazarov clarified that the sale of the S-300 "is not restricted by any international sanctions, because these are merely defensive weapons." Deliveries are to begain soon. (See my earlier, New sanctions on Iran? The Clinton spin....)

The Russian angle is interesting. Secretary Clinton would have you believe that she and Lavrov have some sort of special relationship that will further the aims of the international community when it comes to Iran. The reality appears to me to be far removed from that. Remember Mrs. Clinton's much-publicized "reset button" debacle with Lavrov - incompetence beyond belief. (See my earlier article on another forum, Does the State Department have any competent Russian linguists?)

The China situation is even more problematic, and confusing. Vice President Joe Biden said during his Sunday talk show propaganda sessions that the United States expects to gain China’s support for sanctions on Iran. His words - “We have the support of everyone from Russia to Europe. And I believe we’ll get the support of China to continue to impose sanctions on Iran to isolate them, to make clear that in fact they cannot move forward.”

Why would Biden say that? There has been no indication that Beijing has moderated its position. Mrs. Clinton has just visited Saudi Arabia, hoping to get Saudi assurances that they would offer oil supplies to China to convince them to support the American position. No such luck - our closest Arab ally has balked at taking a stance that would help convince the Chinese to go along with sanctions.

So, Vice President Biden and Secretary of State Clinton want us to believe that they will be able to bring China to the sanctions table. Meanwhile, the Russians continue work on the Bushehr reactor and are committed to delivering advanced weaponry to Iran.

Biden and Clinton can't even deliver the Russians, let alone the Chinese.